ADVISORY: Oversight Committee to Hold Hearing on Energy Department Whistleblower Retaliation and Vet Discrimination

July 30, 2013

WASHINGTON – On Thursday August 1, 2013, at 10:00 a.m. in Room 2154 of the Rayburn House Office Building, the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform will hold a hearing entitled “Department of Energy’s Bonneville Power Administration: Discriminating Against Veterans and Retaliating Against Whistleblowers.”

The central focus of this hearing will be the July 16thManagement Alert,” by the Department of Energy Office of Inspector General (IG), regarding allegations of illegal personnel practices at the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), a component of the Department.  These practices “effectively disadvantaged veterans and other applicants.” The IG also noted that BPA “has apparently proposed or recently executed a number of personnel actions against certain employees who have cooperated with [the IG’s] review.”

The Management Alert said that the “chilling effect of the adverse actions against Bonneville staff is clear, jeopardizing efforts to get at the truth in these matters.”

On July 16th, Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif. wrote a letter to DOE Deputy Secretary Daniel Poneman seeking documents related to the personnel actions.

After the Committee’s first letter, a senior BPA official told Committee investigators that Deputy Secretary Poneman had issued a gag order on BPA employees, preventing them from talking with “anyone” regarding these allegations—including congressional investigators. In a follow-up letter on July 17th, Issa instructed Poneman to immediately reverse the gag order.

On July 24th, DOE sent a reply asserting that employees have been sufficiently instructed of their rights to come forward to Congress with information about wrongdoing. In response, Chairman Issa offered the following statement: “BPA employees have told committee staff– this week– that they still fear retaliation. These BPA employees will not speak to the Committee because they are afraid of losing their jobs. Senior BPA officials have told committee staff their ‘chain of command’ is preventing them from providing more information to the Committee. These conversations speak for themselves. The DOE’s coordination of “external questions” has, to date, done nothing but obstruct the Committee’s oversight work.”

The Committee expects to hear from the following witnesses:

  • The Honorable Daniel B. Poneman, Deputy Secretary, U.S. Department of Energy
  • The Honorable Gregory H. Friedman, Inspector General, U.S. Department of Energy
  • Ms. Anita J. Decker, Chief Operating Officer, Bonneville Power Administration, Note: On July 15, 2013, Decker was placed on Administrative Leave.

BPA is a self-funded non-profit agency that earns over $3.3 billion in revenue annually by selling its products and services.  About one third of the electric power used in the Northwest comes from BPA.  The Bonneville Power Administration also “operates and maintains about three-fourths of the high-voltage transmission in its service territory,” which includes parts of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, California, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming.

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